Memoirs you should read right now
Once you start, you won't be able to put these down.
Reading has been so inspirational for my own memoir, reminding me to include more about my family in certain parts, to add more cliffhangers, or turn up the oomph factor—sarcasm, flavor, and dialogue. You know, the spice that makes memoirs so delicious. But of course, a great memoir is the story and subjective writing that puts me inside the author’s head.
Today’s blog showcases my favorite three books as of late. (I had more on the list, but for the sake of time, I’m choosing three and will save the rest for another blog.)
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Fav celebrity book
Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir by Matthew Perry
I loved this book so much I… devoured this book in three days, I went on Matty’s (he calls himself Matty in the book, so I will too) Facebook and found his book tour schedule. I was downright pissed to see all of his shows were completely sold out. I admit, I totally fan-girled on him, teetering on being obsessed.
What prompted me to read this book: I actually remember going to my friend’s house in college and watching VHS taped versions of Friends. I watched entire seasons like that, being able to fast-forward through commercials. This was before the days of TVO or when boxed seasons came out, so fast-forwarding through the commercials felt like I was cheating.
But I knew about Matthew Perry before Friends, I remember him on Boys Will Be Boys as Chazz. If you remember that, you’re automatically my new friend. Like my play on words there?
I picked this book not just because of my loyalty to Chazz and Chandler, but because I wanted to know more about him and his addiction. And boy, did he have a big one.
The most memorable bits: I suppose there’s a kind of shock value that accompanies memoirs in general. When it’s about a celebrity, the more shocking, the better. And dude, Matty’s memoir made some headlines—at one point in his life, he was taking over 50 pills a day! Xanax, Vicodin, and Oxy, to name a few.
If you were a fan of Friends, remember the seasons when Matty looked all puffy? He was drinking from the time he woke up. Remember when he was rail-thin and his Chandler button-down shirts looked two sizes too big? He was popping pills like they were Mentos.
I was most intrigued by all of the weird stuff that happens in the mind of an addict. (I should also note, he wrote the book himself, sans a ghostwriter. Go, Matty!) Trying to get your hands on 50 pills a day just to stay “normal” is a full-time job. It doesn’t matter if you’re on one of the highest-grossing TV shows of all time (where each Friend was making a mil per episode). According to Matty, there comes a moment when your best doctor pals or drug connections start distancing themselves from you.
This book is so brutally raw and that’s exactly what drew me to it. He’s real about his successes, failures, and all along the way, the destruction caused by his inability to get sober.
It’s a hard look at what happens when all you care about is getting high. The lies, broken relationships (he broke up with Julia Roberts), nearly dying after his intestines exploded, and having his entire row of top teeth fall out. I love that admits he is still looking for “the one” and wants to one day settle down.
Can you see why I tore through the book in three days?
Favorite Non-Fiction Book
Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Sarah Cain
Plus, No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny Purmort
I loved this book so much I… actually took notes on my phone while listening.
What prompted me to read this book: I read her previous book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.” I have yet to meet someone who says they’re an extrovert, myself included. I thought “Quiet” was insightful and thought-provoking, so I decided to listen to Bittersweet.
But beyond the fact that I knew she was an accomplished author, I thought about this emotional state of the title more carefully. It’s something we, as a society, don’t talk about enough. We’re all so fixated on being happy, how to get it, how to maintain it, what about all of the other feelings that aren’t as great?
The most memorable bits: As humans, Sarah argues that not only are we hardwired to feel grief, sorrow, longing, joy, and compassion, we need all of them in order to feel whole.
She says there are reasons why we listen to sappy ballads or feel comforted by rainy days (that’s me), and have strong reactions to art and nature. Grief helps us to become more joyful.
When a loved one dies, you’re expected to mourn and then one day, move on. As in, one day you’ll be sad but then someday, you won’t. If you’ve ever experienced a loved one dying, you know it’s not so binary. There will always be a part of you that mourns and will never get “over it.”
The book is kind of a memoir, mixed with research, case studies, and theories. One specific anecdotal example of grief came from Nora McInerny’s book, “No Happy Endings” (another memoir I highly recommend). Nora’s memoir recounts the death of her husband, who passed away from brain cancer in his 30s. Nora, a new mom at the time with a two-year-old, also endured a miscarriage, then her dad’s death.
The book is about getting remarried (kind of fast) after her first husband’s death and then getting pregnant and having to face judgments around all of it.
What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma by Stephanie Foo
I loved this book so much I… started listening to Snap Judgement and This American Life again—two of the podcasts produced and hosted by Stephanie Foo. She is crazy talented and I have such respect for her storytelling skills and hutzpah.
What prompted me to read this book: My classmate from my 8-week memoir writing class recommended this book to me. She said there were parts of it that reminded her of my story, so naturally, I had to get it.
The most memorable bits: As an Asian immigrant, I related to some parts of the book, like having strict parents who wanted her to get straight A’s. The memoir is about her CPTSD, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by her abusive parents.
While my parents weren’t abusive, I do recall the aftermath of when I disobeyed them. I think I got “the stick” one or two times as a kid. In Korean, this stick is called “mong-doong-ee.” My sister definitely had it worse than me. After each time she was hit, I’d ask her if it hurt, and she’d say, not really. Nonetheless, it caused bruises on her legs and she’d have to wear pants instead of a skirt to school.
Before you call child services on my elderly parents, this kind of discipline was normal in the 80s, especially in Asian culture. However, Stephanie’s beatdowns were severe and cruel. Her parents would call her stupid and pathetic and say things like they wished she hadn’t been born.
One time, during an hour-long beatdown from her irate mother, someone rang the doorbell. Her mom opened the door to a neighbor who informed her it wasn’t the first time she heard screaming and crying coming from the house. She threatened to call the cops. Stephanie, who was in elementary school at the time, pleaded with her neighbor to not call the police, saying she loved her parents.
Then, when she entered high school and was old enough to drive, both parents abandoned her. I was floored. It completely defies my idea of the overly-doting Asian parent.
Her story is a complicated onion. She does a fantastic job of peeling back layers of damage starting from her childhood all the way to adulthood.
The trauma starts to unravel when Stephanie realizes she can’t seem to sustain friendships or romantic relationships. But through it all, she somehow discovers her incredible knack for writing and journalism. And, spoiler alert (just kidding, this is in the beginning of the book, so it’s not an actual spoiler!)—it has a happy ending.
So there you have it, my three favorite reads of late.
A glimpse into my next book recs
Look out for my future Substack reviews on the following books, they are true gems in the memoir world.
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy—Powerful, funny, and holy hell, what a story.
Finding Me by Viola Davis—How many memoirs are part of an Oprah Book Club? Viola’s story gave me shivers. She truly is a woman king.
Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann—Perfectly timed for the season. I found Jen’s books in the library. I immediately took to the tone of her books (lighthearted) and her voice—kind of snarky at times but also hilarious, self-depricating, and authentic. She also has the OG version of this holiday book, People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Both are based on her wildly popular blog, which she now has on Substack.
Normal Family by Chrysta Bilton—OMG, talk about a made-for-movie memoir. A lesbian mother, sperm donator, and later discovering you have hundreds of siblings? Read this book, you seriously won’t be able to put it down.
In case you missed it, I previously wrote about Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner, which made me treasure my mom so much.
Is there anything you’re reading at the moment that leaves you feeling inspired?
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